Chile News & Current Events

Socialists Return to Power

Ricardo Lagos became president in March 2000, the first Socialist to run the country since Allende. Chile's economic growth slowed to 3% for 2001, partly the result of a drop in international copper prices and the economic turmoil in neighboring Argentina. In 2003, there were several minor financial scandals involving insider information and bribery. In response, Lagos introduced new reforms promising greater transparency. In 2004, Chile passed a law permitting divorce for the first time.

In 2006 presidential elections, Socialist Michelle Bachelet won 53% of the vote. The former pediatrician is a survivor of the Pinochet dictatorship, which was responsible for her father's death and subjected her to prison, torture, and exile. Bachelet took office on March 11, becoming Chile's first female chief of state. She promised to continue Chile's successful economic policies while increasing social spending. The president's first major challenge came when 700,000 of the nation's students organized a national boycott in May demanding educational reform. The students called off the strike in June after the government agreed to address their concerns.

In January 2008, president Bachelet swore in six new ministers to her 22-member cabinet. The major change was the appointment of Christian Democrat leader Edmundo Perez Yoma for Interior Minister, the top political post of the cabinet. Bachelet also replaced ministers of economy, public works, mining, agriculture, and planning. The cabinet changes are not expected to affect government policy.

 

Earthquake Devastates Beginning of Right-Wing Rule

In January 2010, for the first time in 50 years—since the rule of Pinochet—Chile elected a right-wing president. Billionaire businessman Sebastián Piñera narrowly defeated Eduardo Frei of the Concertacion, the center-left alliance that has been in power for 20 years, in the second round of voting. Piñera, who was elected to the Senate in 1990, owns a television station, a soccer club, and a large stake in the country's main airline, Lan Chile. He lost to outgoing Bachelet in the 2006 election, his first run for the presidency. Piñera said he would use his business acumen to create jobs give private industry a more prominent role in the economy. He has distanced himself from the Pinochet regime, and his cabinet is made up of a group of technocrats with no ties to Pinochet.

Chile was hit by an 8.8 magnitude earthquake in February 2010. Fatalities were relatively low, with some 500 people killed in the devastation. However, as many as 1.5 million people were displaced. The country, long known to be at high risk for earthquakes, has enforced strict building codes in urban areas, which helped to limit the amount of damage in these areas. But buildings and homes in poorer areas—many built with adobe—did not fare as well. Chile's electricity grids, communication, and transportation systems were badly damaged, severely hampering rescue and aid efforts. The epicenter of the quake was 70 miles northeast of Concepcion in central Chile. Massive waves caused additional damage along the coast.

In March 2010, Sebastián Piñera was sworn in as President of Chile, immediately following three major aftershocks from the recent massive earthquake. Piñera is the first right-wing president since Pinochet. He made an effort to distance himself from the former dictator, and he assembled a cabinet of technocrats with no ties to Pinochet. He faced the widespread devastation of his country following the February earthquake, visiting the quake zone directly after his inauguration. One of his first acts as the new president was to form an emergency response team to deal with the country's reconstruction in the aftermath of the disaster.

 

Fate of Trapped Miners Rivets the Nation

On Aug. 5, 2010, a tunnel collapsed at the San José mine, trapping 33 miners 2,000 feet below ground. Remarkably all of the miners survived. Rescuers drilled a small borehole to provide the miners with food, lights, and liquids and to allow them to send notes to and from family members as they wait to be rescued. The miners have become national heroes throughout Chile. They were rescued in mid-October, weeks earlier than planned, lifted to safety one by one in a rescue capsule. Each of the miners emerged jubilant and in overall good health considering the ordeal.

 

Plan for Hydroelectric Dams Causes Outrage

Immediately following the successful rescue of 33 miners in 2010, Chilean President Sebastián Piñera had an approval rating of 63 percent. By June 2011; however, Piñera had a disapproval rating of 56%, the highest of any Chilean president since democracy returned to the country in 1990. The main reason for the approval rating nosedive was Piñera's support for the Hidroaysén electricity project, a plan to build five dams on two rivers and flood over 14,000 acres of nature reserves in the Patagonia region.

A government environmental commission approved the $3.2 billion Hidroaysén project in May 2011, prompting a country-wide protest movement. The protests caused injuries to 28 police officers and over one hundred thousand dollars in property damage. One protest in early June involved 30,000 demonstrators marching to the presidential palace, with some protestors throwing stones and pieces of wood at police vehicles. The police fired back with water cannons. Since the commission's decision, the focus has turned to the yet to be approved transmission line for the project. Patagonia, considered by Chileans to be a national treasure with its breathtaking glaciers and lakes, attracts thousands of tourists each year.

 

Chilean Youth Call for Reform

Throughout 2011, partly inspired by the Arab Spring, activists continued to protest and started a movement which came to be known as the Chilean Winter. On August 4, 2011, some protestors set up barricades around Santiago, the nation's capital, while others banged on pots and pans. Police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse hundreds of high school and college students. About 900 demonstrators were arrested. Also in August, nearly three dozen university and high school students went on a hunger strike to show their disapproval of President Piñera's government. These education protests have taken over several schools, forcing some to stop classes. Students organized rallies which were attended by 100,000 people. The protestors were demanding a more accessible and affordable university system as well as higher quality and equal funding for elementary and middle schools.

In October 2011, student representatives attempted to negotiate with government representatives led by Felipe Bulnes, the education minister. However, the students withdrew from the negotiations, reporting that Bulnes attacked a student representative, David Urrea. Bulnes reportedly accused Urrea of trying to break up the negotiations. A spokesperson for the government blamed extremists within the student movement for the breakdown of negotiations. Bulnes was replaced by Harald Beyer as education minister two months later.

Although the student protestors did not get all their demands met, they did influence a huge drop in President Piñera's approval rating. As of January 2012, Piñera's approval rating hovered around 26–30%.

U.S. Department of State Background Note

Chile

GEOGRAPHY

The northern Chilean desert contains great mineral wealth, principally copper. The relatively small central area dominates the country in terms of population and agricultural resources. This area also is the cultural and political center from which Chile expanded in the late 19th century, when it incorporated its northern and southern regions. Southern Chile is rich in forests and grazing lands and features a string of volcanoes and lakes. The southern coast is a labyrinth of fjords, inlets, canals, twisting peninsulas, and islands. The Andes Mountains are located on the eastern border.

PEOPLE

About 85% of Chile's population lives in urban areas, with 40% living in greater Santiago. Most have Spanish ancestry. A small, yet influential number of Irish and English immigrants came to Chile during the colonial period. German immigration began in 1848 and lasted for 90 years; the southern provinces of Valdivia, Llanquihue, and Osorno show a strong German influence. Other significant immigrant groups are Italian, Croatian, Basque, and Palestinian. About 800,000 Native Americans, mostly of the Mapuche tribe, reside in the south-central area. The Aymara and Diaguita groups can be found mainly in Chile’s northern desert valleys.

HISTORY

About 10,000 years ago, migrating Indians settled in fertile valleys and along the coast of what is now Chile. The Incas briefly extended their empire into what is now northern Chile, but the area's barrenness prevented extensive settlement. The first Europeans to arrive in Chile were Diego de Almagro and his band of Spanish conquistadors, who came from Peru seeking gold in 1535. The Spanish encountered hundreds of thousands of Indians from various cultures in the area that modern Chile now occupies. These cultures supported themselves principally through slash-and-burn agriculture and hunting. The conquest of Chile began in earnest in 1540 and was carried out by Pedro de Valdivia, one of Francisco Pizarro's lieutenants, who founded the city of Santiago on February 12, 1541. Although the Spanish did not find the extensive gold and silver they sought, they recognized the agricultural potential of Chile's central valley, and Chile became part of the Viceroyalty of Peru.

The drive for independence from Spain was precipitated by usurpation of the Spanish throne by Napoleon's brother Joseph in 1808. A national junta in the name of Ferdinand--heir to the deposed king--was formed on September 18, 1810. The junta proclaimed Chile an autonomous republic within the Spanish monarchy. A movement for total independence soon won a wide following. Spanish attempts to reimpose arbitrary rule during what was called the "Reconquista" led to a prolonged struggle.

Intermittent warfare continued until 1817, when an army led by Bernardo O'Higgins, Chile's most renowned patriot, and José San Martí­n, hero of Argentine independence, crossed the Andes into Chile and defeated the royalists. On February 12, 1818, Chile was proclaimed an independent republic under O'Higgins' leadership. The political revolt brought little social change, however, and 19th century Chilean society preserved the essence of the stratified colonial social structure, which was greatly influenced by family politics and the Roman Catholic Church. A strong presidency eventually emerged, but wealthy landowners remained extremely powerful. Toward the end of the 19th century, the government in Santiago consolidated its position in the south by ruthlessly suppressing the Mapuche Indians. In 1881, it signed a treaty with Argentina confirming Chilean sovereignty over the Strait of Magellan. As a result of the War of the Pacific with Peru and Bolivia (1879-83), Chile expanded its territory northward by almost one-third and acquired valuable nitrate deposits, the exploitation of which led to an era of national affluence. Chile established a parliamentary democracy in the late 19th century, but degenerated into a system protecting the interests of the ruling oligarchy. By the 1920s, the emerging middle and working classes were powerful enough to elect a reformist president, whose program was frustrated by a conservative congress. In the 1920s, Marxist groups with strong popular support arose.

Continuing political and economic instability resulted with the rule of the quasidictatorial Gen. Carlos Ibanez (1924-32). When constitutional rule was restored in 1932, a strong middle-class party, the Radicals, emerged. It became the key force in coalition governments for the next 20 years. During the period of Radical Party dominance (1932-52), the state increased its role in the economy.

The 1964 presidential election of Christian Democrat Eduardo Frei-Montalva by an absolute majority initiated a period of major reform. Under the slogan "Revolution in Liberty," the Frei administration embarked on far-reaching social and economic programs, particularly in education, housing, and agrarian reform, including rural unionization of agricultural workers. By 1967, however, Frei encountered increasing opposition from leftists, who charged that his reforms were inadequate, and from conservatives, who found them excessive. At the end of his term, Frei had accomplished many noteworthy objectives, but he had not fully achieved his party's ambitious goals. In 1970, Senator Salvador Allende, a Marxist and member of Chile's Socialist Party, who headed the "Popular Unity" (UP) coalition of socialists, communists, radicals, and dissident Christian Democrats, won a plurality of votes in a three-way contest and was named President by the Chilean Congress. His program included the nationalization of private industries and banks, massive land expropriation, and collectivization. Allende's program also included the nationalization of U.S. interests in Chile's major copper mines.

Elected with only 36% of the vote and by a plurality of only 36,000 votes, Allende never enjoyed majority support in the Chilean Congress or broad popular support. Domestic production declined; severe shortages of consumer goods, food, and manufactured products were widespread; and inflation reached 1,000% per annum. Mass demonstrations, recurring strikes, violence by both government supporters and opponents, and widespread rural unrest ensued in response to the general deterioration of the economy. By 1973, Chilean society had split into two hostile camps.

A military coup overthrew Allende on September 11, 1973. As the armed forces bombarded the presidential palace, Allende reportedly committed suicide. A military government, led by General Augusto Pinochet, took over control of the country. The first years of the regime in particular were marked by serious human rights violations. A new Constitution was approved by a plebiscite on September 11, 1980, and General Pinochet became President of the Republic for an 8-year term. In its later years, the regime gradually permitted greater freedom of assembly, speech, and association, to include trade union activity. In contrast to its authoritarian political rule, the military government pursued decidedly laissez-faire economic policies. During its 16 years in power, Chile moved away from economic statism toward a largely free market economy that fostered an increase in domestic and foreign private investment. In a plebiscite on October 5, 1988, General Pinochet was denied a second 8-year term as president. Chileans voted for elections to choose a new president and the majority of members of a two-chamber congress. On December 14, 1989, Christian Democrat Patricio Aylwin, the candidate of a coalition of 17 political parties called the Concertacion, was elected president. Aylwin served from 1990 to 1994 and was succeeded by another Christian Democrat, Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle (son of the previous President), leading the same coalition, for a 6-year term. Ricardo Lagos Escobar of the Socialist Party and the Party for Democracy led the Concertacion to a narrower victory in 2000 presidential elections. His term ended on March 11, 2006, when President Michelle Bachelet Jeria took office.

GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS

Chile's Constitution was approved in a September 1980 national plebiscite. It entered into force in March 1981. After Pinochet's defeat in the 1988 plebiscite, the Constitution was amended to ease provisions for future amendments to the Constitution. In September 2005, President Ricardo Lagos signed into law several constitutional amendments passed by Congress. These include eliminating the positions of appointed senators and senators for life, granting the President authority to remove the commanders-in-chief of the armed forces, and reducing the presidential term from six to four years.

Presidential and congressional elections were held December 2005 and January 2006. In the first round of presidential elections, none of the four presidential candidates won more than 50% of the vote. As a result, the top two vote-getters--center-left Concertacion coalition’s Michelle Bachelet and center-right Alianza coalition’s Sebastian Pinera--competed in a run-off election on January 15, 2006, which Michelle Bachelet won. This was Chile’s fourth presidential election since the end of the Pinochet era. All four have been judged free and fair. The President is constitutionally barred from serving consecutive terms. President Bachelet and the new members of Congress took office on March 11, 2006.

Chile has a bicameral Congress, which meets in the port city of Valparaiso, about 140 kilometers (84 mi.) west of the capital, Santiago. Deputies are elected every 4 years, and Senators serve 8-year terms. Chile's congressional elections are governed by a unique binomial system that rewards coalition slates. Each coalition can run two candidates for the two Senate and two Deputy seats apportioned to each electoral district. Historically, the two largest coalitions (Concertacion and Alianza) split most of the seats in a district. Only if the leading coalition ticket out-polls the second-place coalition by a margin of more than 2-to-1 does the winning coalition gain both seats.

In the December 11, 2005 congressional elections, the Concertacion coalition won a majority in both the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies. In the 38-member Senate, the Concertacion coalition holds 20 seats and the Alianza opposition holds 17. There is one independent. In the 120-member Chamber of Deputies, the Concertacion coalitions holds 65 seats and the Alianza holds 54. There is one independent.

Chile's judiciary is independent and includes a court of appeal, a system of military courts, a constitutional tribunal, and the Supreme Court. In June 2005, Chile completed a nation-wide overhaul of its criminal justice system. The reform has replaced inquisitorial proceedings with an adversarial system more similar to that of the United States.

Principal Government Officials

President--Michelle BACHELET Jeria

Minister of Interior--Belisario Velasco

Minister of Foreign Affairs--Alejandro FOXLEY Rioseco

Ambassador to the United States--Mariano Fernández

Ambassador to the Organization of American States (OAS)--Pedro OYARCE Yuraszeck

Ambassador to the United Nations--Heraldo MUNOZ Valenzuela

Chile maintains an embassy in the United States at 1732 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20036; tel: 202-785-1746, fax: 202-659-9624.

DEFENSE

Chile's Armed Forces are subject to civilian control exercised by the President through the Minister of Defense. The President has the authority to remove the commanders-in-chief of the armed forces.

Army

The commander in chief of the Chilean Army is General Oscar Izurieta Ferrer. The Chilean Army is 45,000 strong and is organized with an Army headquarters in Santiago, seven divisions throughout its territory, an Air Brigade in Rancagua, and a Special Forces Command in Colina. The Chilean Army is one of the most professional and technologically advanced armies in Latin America.

Navy

Admiral Rodolfo Codina directs the 23,000-person Navy, including 2,500 Marines. Of the fleet of 29 surface vessels, only eight are operational major combatants (frigates). Those ships are based in Valparaiso. The Navy operates its own aircraft for transport and patrol; there are no Navy fighter or bomber aircraft. The Navy also operates four submarines based in Talcahuano.

Air Force (FACH)

Gen. Ricardo Ortega Perrier heads a force of 12,500. Air assets are distributed among five air brigades headquartered in Iquique, Antofagasta, Santiago, Puerto Montt, and Punta Arenas. The Air Force also operates an airbase on King George Island, Antarctica. The FACH took delivery of 14 F-16 aircraft in 2006 and will take delivery of 14 more in 2007.

Carabineros

After the military coup in September 1973, the Chilean national police (Carabineros) were incorporated into the Defense Ministry. With the return of democratic government, the police were placed under the operational control of the Interior Ministry but remained under the nominal control of the Defense Ministry. Gen. Jose Bernales is the head of the national police force of 30,000 men and women who are responsible for law enforcement, traffic management, narcotics suppression, border control, and counter-terrorism throughout Chile.

ECONOMY

After a decade of impressive growth rates, Chile began to experience a moderate economic downturn in 1999, brought on by unfavorable global economic conditions related to the Asian financial crisis, which began in 1997. The economy remained sluggish until 2003, when it began to show clear signs of recovery, achieving 3.3% real GDP growth. The Chilean economy finished 2004 with growth of 6.1%. Real GDP growth reached 6.3% in 2005 before falling back to 4.0% growth in 2006. Higher energy prices as well as lagging consumer demand were drags on the economy in 2006. Higher Chilean Government spending and favorable external conditions (including record copper prices for much of 2006) were not enough to offset these drags. For the first time in many years, Chilean economic growth in 2006 was among the weakest in Latin America.

Chile has pursued generally sound economic policies for nearly three decades. The 1973-90 military government sold many state-owned companies, and the three democratic governments since 1990 have continued privatization, though at a slower pace. The government's role in the economy is mostly limited to regulation, although the state continues to operate copper giant CODELCO and a few other enterprises (there is one state-run bank). Chile is strongly committed to free trade and has welcomed large amounts of foreign investment. Chile has signed free trade agreements (FTAs) with a whole network of countries, including an FTA with the United States, which was signed in 2003 and implemented in January 2004. Over the last several years, Chile has signed FTAs with the European Union, South Korea, New Zealand, Singapore, Brunei, China, and Japan. It reached a partial trade agreement with India in 2005 and began negotiations for a full-fledged FTA with India in 2006. Chile plans to continue its focus on its trade ties with Asia by negotiating in 2007 trade agreements with Thailand, Malaysia, and Australia.

High domestic savings and investment rates helped propel Chile's economy to average growth rates of 8% during the 1990s. The privatized national pension system (AFP) has encouraged domestic investment and contributed to an estimated total domestic savings rate of approximately 21% of GDP. However, the AFP is not without its critics, who cite low participation rates (only 55% of the working population is covered), with groups such as the self-employed outside the system. There has also been criticism of the inefficiency and high costs due to a lack of competition among pension funds. Critics cite loopholes in the use of pension savings through lump sum withdraws for the purchase of a second home or payment of university fees as fundamental weaknesses of the AFP. The Bachelet administration plans substantial reform, but not an overhaul, of the AFP during the next several years.

Unemployment stubbornly hovered in the 8%-10% range after the start of the economic slowdown in 1999, well above the 5%-6% average for the 1990s. Unemployment finally dipped to 7.8% at the end of 2006, due largely to the fact that fewer Chileans were entering the workforce rather than to a substantial and sustained creation of new jobs. Most international observers place some of the blame for Chile’s consistently high unemployment rate on complicated and restrictive labor laws. Wages have risen faster than inflation as a result of higher productivity, boosting national living standards. The percentage of Chileans with incomes below the poverty line--defined as twice the cost of satisfying a family of four’s minimal nutritional needs--fell from 46% in 1987 to around 18% by 2004.

Chile's independent Central Bank pursues an inflation target of between 2% and 4%. Inflation has not exceeded 5% since 1998. Chile registered an inflation rate of 3.2% in 2006. The Chilean peso’s rapid appreciation against the U.S. dollar in recent years has helped dampen inflation. Most wage settlements and loans are indexed, reducing inflation's volatility. Under the compulsory private pension system, most formal sector employees pay 10% of their salaries into privately managed funds.

Total foreign direct investment (FDI) was only $3.4 billion in 2006, up 52% from a poor performance in 2005. However, 80% of FDI continues to go to only four sectors: electricity, gas, water and mining. Much of the jump in FDI in 2006 was also the result of acquisitions and mergers and has done little to create new employment in Chile. The Chilean Government has formed a Council on Innovation and Competition, which is tasked with identifying new sectors and industries to promote. It is hoped that this, combined with some tax reforms to encourage domestic and foreign investment in research and development, will bring in additional FDI and to new parts of the economy. As of 2006, Chile invested only 0.6% of its annual GDP in research and development (R&D). Even then, two-thirds of that was government spending. The fact that domestic and foreign companies spend almost nothing on R&D does not bode well for the Government of Chile’s efforts to develop innovative, knowledge-based sectors. Additionally, on January 8, 2007, Chile was placed on the U.S. Trade Representative’s Priority Watch List due to its poor record on protecting intellectual property rights. Chile is only the second U.S. FTA partner ever to be placed on the Priority Watch List. Chile has a poor and deteriorating record of protecting copyrighted music, films, and software. Combined with this is its institutional structure allowing local companies to produce and market pharmaceutical generics that violate existing patents. Beyond its general economic and political stability, the government also has encouraged the use of Chile as an "investment platform" for multinational corporations planning to operate in the region, but this will have limited value given the developing business climate in Chile itself. Chile's approach to foreign direct investment is codified in the country's Foreign Investment Law, which gives foreign investors the same treatment as Chileans. Registration is simple and transparent, and foreign investors are guaranteed access to the official foreign exchange market to repatriate their profits and capital. While Chile and the EU have signed a double taxation treaty, no such agreement exists between the U.S. and Chile.

Foreign Trade

2006 was a record year for Chilean trade. Total trade registered a 31% increase over 2005. During 2006, exports of goods and services totaled U.S. $58 billion, an increase of 41%. This figure was somewhat distorted by the skyrocketing price of copper. In 2006, copper exports reached a historical high of U.S. $33.3 billion. Imports totaled U.S. $35 billion, an increase of 17% compared to the previous year. Chile thus recorded a positive trade balance of U.S. $23 billion in 2006.

The main destinations for Chilean exports were the Americas (U.S. $39 billion), Asia (U.S. $27.8 billion) and Europe (U.S. $22.2 billion). Seen as shares of Chile’s export markets, 42% of exports went to the Americas, 30% to Asia and 24% to Europe. Within Chile’s diversified network of trade relationships, its most important partner remained the United States. Total trade with the U.S. was U.S. $14.8 billion in 2006. Since the U.S.-Chile Free Trade Agreement went into effect on January 1, 2004, U.S.-Chilean trade has increased by 154%. Internal Government of Chile figures show that even when factoring out inflation and the recent high price of copper, bilateral trade between the U.S. and Chile has grown over 60% since then.

Total trade with Europe also grew in 2006, expanding by 42%. The Netherlands and Italy were Chile’s main European trading partners. Total trade with Asia also grew significantly at nearly 31%. Trade with Korea and Japan grew significantly, but China remained Chile’s most important trading partner in Asia. Chile’s total trade with China reached U.S. $8.8 billion in 2006, representing nearly 66% of the value of its trade relationship with Asia.

The growth of exports in 2006 was due mainly to a strong increase in sales to the United States, the Netherlands, and Japan. These three markets alone accounted for an additional U.S. $5.5 billion worth of Chilean exports. Chilean exports to the United States totaled U.S. $9.3 billion, representing a 37.7% increase compared to 2005 (U.S. $6.7 billion). Exports to the European Union were U.S. $15.4 billion, a 63.7% increased compared to 2005 (U.S. $9.4 billion). Exports to Asia increased from U.S. $15.2 billion in 2005 to U.S. $19.7 billion in 2006, a 29.9% increase.

During 2006, Chile imported U.S. $26 billion from the Americas, representing 54% of total imports, followed by Asia at 22%, and Europe at 16%. Mercosur members were the main suppliers of imports to Chile at U.S. $9.1 billion, followed by the United States with U.S. $5.5 billion and the European Union with U.S. $5.2 billion. From Asia, China was the most important exporter to Chile, with goods valued at U.S. $3.6 billion. Year-on-year growth in imports was especially strong from a number of countries--Ecuador (123.9%), Thailand (72.1%), Korea (52.6%), and China (36.9%).

Chile’s overall trade profile has traditionally been dependent upon copper exports. The state-owned firm CODELCO is the world's largest copper-producing company, with recorded copper reserves of 200 years. Chile has made an effort to expand nontraditional exports. The most important non-mineral exports are forestry and wood products, fresh fruit and processed food, fishmeal and seafood, and wine.

Successive Chilean governments have actively pursued trade-liberalizing agreements. During the 1990s, Chile signed FTAs with Canada, Mexico, and Central America. Chile also concluded preferential trade agreements with Venezuela, Colombia, and Ecuador. An association agreement with Mercosur--Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay--went into effect in October 1996. Continuing its export-oriented development strategy, Chile completed landmark free trade agreements in 2002 with the European Union and South Korea. Chile, as a member of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) organization, is seeking to boost commercial ties to Asian markets. To that end, it has signed trade agreements in recent years with New Zealand, Singapore, Brunei, India, China, and most recently Japan. In 2007, Chile plans to begin negotiations with Thailand, Malaysia, and Australia.

After two years of negotiations, the United States and Chile signed an agreement in June 2003 that will lead to completely duty-free bilateral trade within 12 years. The U.S.-Chile FTA entered into force January 1, 2004 following approval by the U.S. and Chilean congresses. The bilateral FTA has inaugurated greatly expanded U.S.-Chilean trade ties, with total bilateral trade jumping by 154% during the FTA’s first three years.

Chile unilaterally lowered its across-the-board import tariff for all countries with which it does not have a trade agreement to 6% in 2003. Higher effective tariffs are charged only on imports of wheat, wheat flour, and sugar as a result of a system of import price bands. The price bands were ruled inconsistent with Chile's World Trade Organization (WTO) obligations in 2002, and the government has introduced legislation to modify them. Under the terms of the U.S.-Chile FTA, the price bands will be completely phased out for U.S. imports of wheat, wheat flour, and sugar within 12 years.

Chile is a strong proponent of pressing ahead on negotiations for a Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) and is active in the WTO’s Doha round of negotiations, principally through its membership in the G-20 and Cairns Group.

Finance

Chile's financial sector has grown quickly in recent years, with a banking reform law approved in 1997 that broadened the scope of permissible foreign activity for Chilean banks. The Chilean Government implemented a further liberalization of capital markets in 2001, and there is further pending legislation proposing further liberalization. Over the last ten years, Chileans have enjoyed the introduction of new financial tools such as home equity loans, currency futures and options, factoring, leasing, and debit cards. The introduction of these new products has also been accompanied by an increased use of traditional instruments such as loans and credit cards. Chile's private pension system, with assets worth roughly $70 billion at the end of 2006, has been an important source of investment capital for the capital market. Chile maintains one of the best credit ratings (S&P A+) in Latin America. There are three main ways for Chilean firms to raise funds abroad: bank loans, issuance of bonds, and the selling of stocks on U.S. markets through American Depository Receipts (ADRs). Nearly all of the funds raised through these means go to finance domestic Chilean investment. The government is required by law to run a fiscal surplus of at least 1% of GDP. In 2006, the Government of Chile ran a surplus of $11.3 billion, equal to almost 8% of GDP. The Government of Chile continues to pay down its foreign debt, with public debt only 3.9% of GDP at the end of 2006.

FOREIGN RELATIONS

Since its return to democracy in 1990, Chile has been an active participant in the international political arena. Chile completed a 2-year non-permanent position on the UN Security Council in January 2005. Jose Miguel Insulza, a Chilean national, was elected Secretary General of the Organization of American States in May 2005. Chile is an active member of the UN family of agencies and participates in UN peacekeeping activities. Chile hosted the Defense Ministerial of the Americas in 2002 and the APEC summit and related meetings in 2004. Chile hosted the Community of Democracies ministerial in April 2005. An associate member of Mercosur and a full member of APEC, Chile has been an important actor on international economic issues and hemispheric free trade.

The Chilean Government has diplomatic relations with most countries. It settled its territorial disputes with Argentina during the 1990s. Chile and Bolivia severed diplomatic ties in 1978 over Bolivia's desire to reacquire territory it lost to Chile in 1879-83 War of the Pacific. The two countries maintain consular relations and are represented at the Consul General level.

U.S.-CHILEAN RELATIONS

Relations between the United States and Chile are better now than at any other time in history. The U.S. Government applauded the rebirth of democratic practices in Chile in the late 1980s and early 1990s and sees the maintenance of a vibrant democracy and a healthy and sustainable economy as among the most important U.S. interests in Chile. Besides the landmark 2003 U.S.-Chile FTA, the two governments consult frequently on issues of mutual concern, including in the areas of multilateral diplomacy, security, culture, and science.

U.S. Embassy Functions

In addition to working closely with Chilean Government officials to strengthen our bilateral relationship, the U.S. Embassy in Santiago provides a wide range of services to U.S. citizens and businesses in Chile. (Please see the embassy's home page for details of these services.) The Embassy also is the locus for a number of American community activities in the Santiago area.

The Public Affairs Section cooperates with universities and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) on a variety of programs of bilateral interest. Of special note are extensive U.S. Speaker, International Visitor, and Fulbright programs. Themes of particular interest include trade, international security, democratic governance in the region, judicial reform, law enforcement, environmental issues, and the teaching of English. The Public Affairs Section works daily with Chilean media, which has a keen interest in bilateral and regional relations. It also assists visiting foreign media, including U.S. journalists, and is regularly involved in press events for high-level visitors.

Attachés at the Embassy from the Foreign Commercial Service, Foreign Agricultural Service, and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) work closely with the hundreds of U.S. companies who export to or maintain offices in Chile. These officers provide information on Chilean trade and industry regulations and administer several programs intended to support U.S. companies' sales in Chile.

The Consular Section of the Embassy provides vital services to the more than 12,000 U.S. citizens residing in Chile. It assists Americans who wish to vote in U.S. elections while abroad, provides U.S. tax information, and facilitates government benefits/social security payments. Besides those U.S. citizens resident in Chile, about 170,000 U.S. citizens visit Chile annually. The Consular Section offers passport and emergency services to U.S. tourists during their stay in Chile. It also issues about 40,000 visitor visas annually to Chilean citizens who plan to travel to the United States.

Other Contact Information

American Chamber of Commerce in Chile

Avenida Presidente Kennedy 5735, Oficina 201

Torre Poniente, Las Condes

Santiago

Tel: 562-290-9700

Fax: 562-212-2620

Website: http://www.amchamchile.cl (Spanish)

http://www.amchamchile.cl/node/859 (English)

Comite de Inversiones Extranjeras (Foreign Investment Committee)

Andres Culagovski, Acting Executive Vice President

Teatinos 120, P. 10; Santiago, Chile

Tel: 562-698-4254

Fax: 562-698-9476

Website: http://www.foreigninvestment.cl

Chilean Government Agencies

Website: http://www.chileangovernment.cl/

U.S. Department of Commerce

Trade Information Center

International Trade Administration

14th and Constitution Avenue, NW

Washington, DC 20230

Tel: 800-USA-TRADE

Fax: 202-482-4726

Website: http://trade.gov

Additional information regarding U.S. and U.S.-Chile trade can be found at the following websites: http://www.export.gov/ and http://www.buyusa.gov/chile/en/.

 

TRAVEL AND BUSINESS INFORMATION

The U.S. Department of State's Consular Information Program advises Americans traveling and residing abroad through Consular Information Sheets, Public Announcements, and Travel Warnings. Consular Information Sheets exist for all countries and include information on entry and exit requirements, currency regulations, health conditions, safety and security, crime, political disturbances, and the addresses of the U.S. embassies and consulates abroad. Public Announcements are issued to disseminate information quickly about terrorist threats and other relatively short-term conditions overseas that pose significant risks to the security of American travelers. Travel Warnings are issued when the State Department recommends that Americans avoid travel to a certain country because the situation is dangerous or unstable.

For the latest security information, Americans living and traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs Internet web site at http://www.travel.state.gov, where the current Worldwide Caution, Public Announcements, and Travel Warnings can be found. Consular Affairs Publications, which contain information on obtaining passports and planning a safe trip abroad, are also available at http://www.travel.state.gov. For additional information on international travel, see http://www.usa.gov/Citizen/Topics/Travel/International.shtml.

The Department of State encourages all U.S citizens traveling or residing abroad to register via the State Department's travel registration website or at the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate abroad. Registration will make your presence and whereabouts known in case it is necessary to contact you in an emergency and will enable you to receive up-to-date information on security conditions.

Emergency information concerning Americans traveling abroad may be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada or the regular toll line 1-202-501-4444 for callers outside the U.S. and Canada.

The National Passport Information Center (NPIC) is the U.S. Department of State's single, centralized public contact center for U.S. passport information. Telephone: 1-877-4USA-PPT (1-877-487-2778). Customer service representatives and operators for TDD/TTY are available Monday-Friday, 7:00 a.m. to 12:00 midnight, Eastern Time, excluding federal holidays.

Travelers can check the latest health information with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. A hotline at 877-FYI-TRIP (877-394-8747) and a web site at http://www.cdc.gov/travel/index.htm give the most recent health advisories, immunization recommendations or requirements, and advice on food and drinking water safety for regions and countries. A booklet entitled "Health Information for International Travel" (HHS publication number CDC-95-8280) is available from the U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402, tel. (202) 512-1800.

 

Revised: Apr. 2007